What Rebel Wilson shares with the world, what has landed her front and center on the proverbial big screen, is her singular, laconic comedic talent. But spend time with Wilson and she doesn’t perform for you. Instead, she projects a simple honesty and confidence. There is absolutely no second-guessing.
Wilson will be the first to tell you she never expected to be on the cover of a fashion magazine, but she’ll also proudly remind you she has a law degree (which she uses often, giving counsel to friends) and, well, a pretty good read on the world. If Wilson weren’t an actress, she could be a devilishly effective life coach. Or she could run for office, but we’ll get to that.
We met up in Paris on what happened to be Wilson’s 39th birthday. She was staying at the Ritz, attending the Givenchy show and shamelessly enjoying herself. Then she headed back to her native Australia to flex some more serious muscle in the crime-drama series Les Norton. This month she will star in The Hustle, a remake of 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, alongside Anne Hathaway.
Come to think of it, The Hustle could also be a handy name for a Rebel Wilson biopic.
Laura Brown: Did you ever think that 10 years after you came to the States — from Sydney — you would be shooting InStyle’s Beauty Issue cover? Quite the leap, eh?
Rebel Wilson: There is no way on earth I thought this would happen because — I’ll put it this way — I never got anywhere because of my looks. I got places because I had a good brain and a good imagination. Only since moving to the States was I like, “People pay attention to what I wear. I should try to class it up a little bit.” I like being comfortable, and I come from a family where people didn’t really care what you looked like. They didn’t judge you on that.
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LB: Well, that’s the best place to come from rather than the other way around.
RW: I had friends whose mothers told them to always be put together and to look a certain way when you leave the house. I was the complete opposite. No one in my family went to the beauty salon. I didn’t even get my nails done until I was 25. It took my best friend Nick looking at my feet one day and going, “You should maybe do something about your nails,” for me to realize that I should go to a nail salon. Now I’m obsessed with going. I’m there every two weeks.
LB: How much did moving to Hollywood change your self-image for better or for worse?
RW: When I walked into my agency, William Morris Endeavor, on my second day in Hollywood, 10 years ago, they were like, “Wow, we have nobody who looks like you.” I’m assuming they meant a plus-size girl.
LB: OK. Didn’t have any real ladies.
RW: No, but there were a lot of glamours. You look at the people who came out of Australia before me, like Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts. There are tons more now, but back then they were the glamours. I’ve kind of grown into my looks. Or maybe I’m just taking a bit more pride in my appearance now, which I think is a positive thing because I was too far the other way before. I was like, “I’ll just wear this baseball cap.” I’m still like that sometimes, but, particularly when you’re dating, you do need to pay attention.
LB: Do you feel like you have a healthier attitude toward your appearance now?
RW: Actually, when you get paparazzi’d and stuff, it does make you think about it. When Pitch Perfect came out, I became internationally famous, and people were hanging outside my house to take my photo. You have to think about it a bit more than a normal person. But I’m a pretty low-maintenance chick. Through working with my stylist, Elizabeth Stewart, I’ve learned all these little tips and tricks — and they really work. Then you feel more comfortable when you have to dress up. I remember I didn’t even go to a friend’s wedding in my 20s because I didn’t know where to buy a dress in my size. Now it is the opposite. Now I have a wardrobe full of custom Givenchy.
LB: You fancy now.
RW: Now it is very different. My family is going to hate me for saying this, but they raid my closet because we wear similar sizes and they know I have the best fashion taste. I know what I’m talking about now. So I find that I impart a lot of my knowledge, especially to plus-size girls.
LB: How proud is your family of you?
RW: They’re Australian, so they’re very down-to-earth about everything. But they just came out for the première [of Isn’t It Romantic], and you can tell they’re really proud about the kind of positive messages I’m putting in the work. I feel like I represent them and a lot of people where I come from in the roles I play.
LB: You’ve done so much in a relatively short time.
RW: If you look at the odds of someone from Australia making it, they’re pretty small. When I look at all the things I’ve done in my career ... I feel like I’ve got so much farther to go. But I am really proud, and, you know, I didn’t have to sleep my way to the top. [laughs]
LB: Legit. You got there by having some snap.
RW: Yeah, and by being unique and true to myself. Now I’m producing movies too. It’s much more than I could have ever dreamed about. When I first came to America, I just wanted to get in one Hollywood film.
LB: What was the first one? Bridesmaids?
RW: Yes. I’d done a cameo in a movie called Ghost Rider, which was filmed in Melbourne and was technically a Hollywood film, but it wasn’t shot in America, so Bridesmaids was my first one, really.
LB: You’ve grown into yourself. And then the confidence came, and you just transmit it.
RW: Oprah used to say [something like] that a lot, and I never quite realized until now what she meant. Because you do get into a groove with yourself and learn stuff along your journey. So I do know how to dress for all occasions now, but I still haven’t mastered blow-drying my own hair. [laughs]
LB: Yeah, ’cause you’ve got the curly hair, gotta tame it. But can you be tamed, Rebel?
RW: I’ll always have a bit of rebelliousness inside me.
LB: There’s a lot to live up to being called Rebel.
RW: I know, but I think I do it. I’d shock some people if they knew some of the things I do.
LB: Care to drop one?
RW: No, but I was thinking about it this morning because, you know, some people go out and get smashed on their birthdays, but I get reflective. So I wrote a little letter to myself, and I was like, “Congratulations on everything. You’re doing pretty good.” Especially before coming to a fashion shoot where I worked hard, you know, doing all the posing.
LB: Doing the posing is hard. One of the many things I love about you is that — funnily enough, it’s the name of your next movie — you hustle. You work, you write, you buy houses …
RW: I have a clothing line and shoes coming too.
LB: Where does all that drive come from?
RW: I think it comes from not having much as a child and seeing other people have stuff and just wanting to be financially secure. I always wanted to make something of myself. And, weirdly, I always believed I would be rich and successful even as a very young child, and I would say that to people. If you manifest [what you want], I really do think it comes true. It’s not so much about having money. I like doing good, charitable things. But it is also nice when you don’t have much. Like the first time I came to Paris, for example, I was on a Contiki tour, which was about 1,200 bucks for a month. You only got the food that was on the tour. I broke the bank when I bought some Pringles from a gas station. I put the trip on a credit card.
LB: Those heady days.
RW: I had to work off that debt at a sunglasses store and the cinemas and doing all sorts of jobs. When you look back on stuff like that, you’re like, “Whoa, I’ve really come a massive way.” The difference now is huge — staying in a suite at the Ritz, going to whatever restaurant I want, and having lovely drivers take you around so you don’t have to walk around to see the sights.
LB: Do you ever worry about losing this life that you worked so hard to create?
RW: No, because I feel like I’m only going to get more successful. That’s up to me. I’m going to get into more diverse acting roles because people haven’t seen the extent of my talent. I love the roles I play, but, obviously, I can do a lot more. I feel the same with all my businesses too.
LB: Do you ever feel like you’re expected to amuse people?
RW: Yeah. People are shocked that in real life I’m quite sensible and kind of conservative. They find that strange because when they see me in the movies, I’m like a joke a minute. I actually don’t think I’m very funny in real life, but, of course, it’s a part of me. If I acted that way in public, I would be a lunatic.
LB: What’s it like dating and such?
RW: People get very intimidated, which is weird, the idea that I would be intimidating to anyone. But it happens all the time, to the point that someone I really liked was so intimidated and got a lot of anxiety and couldn’t have a relationship with me because I’m in the public eye. They didn’t want that, so that kind of sucked. If someone thinks they’re on a date with Fat Amy, that’s not going to happen. Sorry, I can be almost as much fun, but I’m not like that in real life.
LB: What are you ambitious for?
RW: I’d like more power in the work that I do. With comedy, I’m very particular, and sometimes it physically pains me to see something altered without telling me.
LB: Whose career do you admire?
RW: I like Donna Langley, who runs Universal Studios. I think that’s awesome. Also, I have this weird feeling that I might go into politics in Australia.
LB: Tell me about that. You have been fighting for your rights very publicly with the Australian tabloid media. [In 2016 Wilson sued Germany’s Bauer Media for defamation after articles were published in The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day alleging that she lied in interviews. She won the case and was ultimately awarded $600,000 Australian.]
RW: I know. I like fighting against injustice. Even though there are plenty of injustices and my defamation case was not the biggest, it’s an example of Australian culture trying to tear down successful Australians. I think that is the opposite of what we should be striving for. Anyone who has made a success of themselves out of Australia, if they represent their country well, they should not be torn down. That kind of cultural thing, tall poppy syndrome, is just very negative and toxic. One thing I’ve always really liked about America is that it celebrates success, which I thought was a very positive cultural attribute.
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LB: So what would your political platform be?
RW: I want to help people, and part of my case [in Australia] was standing up to a big, bullying media organization. When I see other people needing to stand up for themselves, I like to inspire them or help them with the legal knowledge I have. And, God, as a woman, you need to stand up for yourself in so many ways. It’s important, and I think some people do find inspiration from me and my life. My mother was a public-school teacher. I have a sister who is a nurse, and I’m real big into military — I shouldn’t say just military dudes. [laughs] I’m into good education for people. Through the School [of St Jude] in Tanzania, I have been helping to lift kids out of poverty through education. The health-care system is really important. Those are the political platforms I naturally would have because of my background, so I do think when I am done with Hollywood, that’s what will happen.
LB: You could go Schwarzenegger. Except do it in Australia.
RW: Yeah, but I feel like I’m more qualified. I have the top law degree from the University of New South Wales.
LB: Do you often give legal advice to your friends?
RW: Yes, I’m helpful at business and career strategy. I’m probably too quick to give advice, but I think I’m good at thinking strategically through a certain issue. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am if I didn’t think like that. Like, how do you come to Hollywood and there are five million actors — some ridiculous statistic — and actually get a job? You have to think around it. [When I got there] I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go into comedy because girls who look like me, it’s easier to get laughs. I’ll specialize in comedy, and I’ll have a background in all areas of comedy so by the time I come to America, I’ll be ready.”
LB: It’s fascinating, a legal approach to a comedy career.
RW: I want to write a book about how I went from being very unpopular to very popular in high school. There are a lot of interesting lessons in how I turned my life around, and I think it might be helpful to teenagers. I was so shy and socially awkward, and I was lucky to change that.
LB: Did you have that seminal moment that gave you confidence?
RW: You can get a lot of confidence through creative arts, and that’s definitely why I was forced into it in the first place. It was a way of expression, not because I wanted to be famous or wanted to be somebody else.
LB: Just to be the maximum, ultimate you.
RW: Also, in high school musicals I was never cast as the lead, and then last week, when I was on set for Cats, I was like, “I’m in motherf—ing Cats! I’m singing for Andrew Lloyd Webber!”
LB: That’s wild. What are the things you really appreciate now that you’re well known?
RW: Well, I’m very Australian in that whenever I’m at the sports games or award shows, I always want to get photos with people.
LB: Like who?
RW: I got [a photo with] LeBron [James]. I was at a Taylor Swift concert, and we saw Jared Goff, who’s the quarterback for the [Los Angeles] Rams, and I’m like, “Hey.” I do get fan girl quite a bit, which is embarrassing. I should stop doing it, but I get excited to meet certain people. When I get to do VIP stuff, I always get excited about it.
LB: And when you walk into the Ritz hotel in Paris with people going, “Bonjour, Madame Wilson,” it’s so good.
RW: Yes, and they keep giving me cakes … and I keep eating them!
Photographed by: Robbie Fimmano. Styling: Katie Mossman. Hair: Sébastien Richard. Makeup: Tiina Roivainen. Manicure: Chloé Desmarchelier. Production: Octopix.
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download April. 19.